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Lions Roar : July 2009
SHAMBHALA SUN JULY 2009 66 God, Guru, and Gender By rITA GrOSS In patriarchal systems, by definition, women are forbidden to hold authority, although feminist research shows that they often wield considerable power nevertheless. Since the defining trait of patriarchy is formal male control of the society, clearly women who held formal authority would fundamentally contradict the system. With some exceptions, Buddhism has followed this patriarchal norm throughout its history. Thus, there is no question that Buddhism cannot become post-patriarchal until women wield authority in Buddhism—however that comes to be defined and structured eventually in Western Buddhism. That is one of the reasons why I claim that the presence of female gurus is the central issue for Western Buddhist women. The transition point when women finally achieve authority in Western vajrayana Buddhism is, however, fraught with another grave danger. I long to see a female feminist lineage holder within my lifetime. That second word is crucial. Unfortunately, in many systems, the first women to achieve authority are more patriarchal than the men who have always held authority, which solves almost nothing.... Using the analogy of the tree house with the sign “No Girls Allowed,” I often suggest to my students that just getting into a messy dilapidated tree house is not enough. It needs to be cleaned up and restructured, which is why it is so critical to have not only female but feminist gurus involved in the transmission of Buddhism to the West and the transition to post- patriarchal Buddhism. They could quickly deal with issues such as the lack of gender-inclusive chants or lack of positive feminine imagery in the meditation hall. That is the nature of authority and that is why it is so crucial to have not only female but feminist lineage holders. — JUly, 1997 The Cynic and the Mystic By PeTer J. CONrAdI The meditator can manifest as two contradictory people. One, an ordinary unregenerate impatient jaded materialist, sees humankind as a fortuitous and pointless blend of minerals and star-gases in a dead universe, and life as self-interested, without meaning. For him the spiritual path is pretentious, a kind of vanity. Though he scorns all that is lyrical or elegiac, his favorite opening line is from Beckett’s Murphy: “The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new,” with its echo of ecclesiastes (“Nothing new under the sun”); though he scorns all that is lyrical or elegiac. His favorite adverb is Martin Amis’ “unsurprisingly.” He fears his own disappearance, both in death and in meditation. He resembles the hero in Sartre’s novel Nausea, for whom the world exists in superabundant threat to his own sense of being. This stubborn hero is all too familiar, to the point sometimes of seeming almost to be part of me. yet this is not the whole story. An alternative persona has a child’s capacity to lose itself in a condition of extreme wakefulness, attentive to what it sees or hears or does, “engrossed in a world of play.” The perceptual field expands and shows a new world: the mystic finds the meaning of life within love. There is no final victor in the war between these two embattled personae, and meditation is one site where they repeatedly encounter one another. After extended meditation the joyous mystic is ascendant; in periods of inactivity, by contrast, the depressed, anxious cynic wins. They speak different tongues. The world appears very different to each, with its own internally coherent logic. They seem zoologically distinct species, each addicted to his own cherished truths. The mystic, however, does not see more than the cynic; he sees less. What is subtracted is what is self-involved. With that crucial subtraction, the world and all it contains becomes vivid and marvelous and moving. The cynic suffers less impersonally. He is anxious and depressive. It is remarked of some who are dying that they wonder at never before having felt so intensely alive. The meditator would like to feel aliveness without being obliged to await this final moment. The terror of a world without sacredness is the greatest terror. The meditator remembers that life itself is sacred; the cynic forgets this. — MAy, 2005 PAINTINGByTONyMATTHeWS